Palestine and the Middle East Great Game

Joining the chorus imploring the Israeli political establishment to straighten out its priorities and tone down the anti-Iran hysteria is Lt. General Benny Gantz, chief of the Israel Defense Forces. Gantz is convinced that “the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people” and has adjudged that Supreme Leader Ali Khameini will not decide to pursue nukes, saying “I don’t think he will want to go the extra mile.” Contra his boss, Prime Minister Netanyahu–who totally opposes upcoming negotiations, is skeptical of the efficacy of sanctions, and demands Iran be rid of all its enrichment capabilities-for Gantz all the international pressure is “starting to bear fruit” and he nods approvingly at diplomacy along with Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Barak, formerly the foremost proponent of bombing Iran, has done an about-face of late, opening up a schism within the Israeli leadership. An anonymous Israeli senior official confided to the AP’s Jean-Luc Renaudie that, “Ehud Barak has evolved and seems more moderate,” and “In fact, the prime minister is somewhat isolated on Iran.” The doomsday clock has been set back by hours with Netanyahu in check.

One would think that Gantz’s admission would squash talk of all hostilities (including those occurring under the radar) but, for all his insight, the military chief is patently no pacifist on Iran. Indeed, in his interview with Haaretz, Gantz made sure to lace his language with equivocations. Iran doesn’t aspire to atomic weaponry but the military option–all but called-off–must still be “first in terms of its credibility”–Really? More than this, he announced recently the resumption of covert operations against ‘enemy nations’ after they were suspended last month for Netanyahu’s fear that they would “be discovered or go awry.” Writing about this discontinuance in Time Magazine, Karl Vick noted that these operations–which included assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists–were halted because they risked “recasting the nuclear issue itself, from one of overarching global concern into a contest confined to a pair of longtime enemies.” Vick intimated at the gist of things here, namely that this is truly a trumped up rumpus between two regional rivals and that the whole world has been sucked into it so one side could gain an advantage in an ongoing asymmetrical war.

Both Israel and Iran are waging ‘soft war’ against one another via proxies: Iran by using Hamas and Hezbollah to deter Israel’s regional ambitions, Israel by using the MEK and Jundullah. That explains why Gantz is having covert ops continue although other high-ranking officials have repeatedly acknowledged that even a hypothetical nuclear Iran wouldn’t pose an existential threat. This clandestine campaign is part and parcel of the Great Game being played between these adversaries. But they haven’t always been at daggers drawn and Israel wouldn’t balk at keeping the Islamic Republic regime provided they become convinced to again participate in Israel’s ‘periphery doctrine‘ wherein Iran will ally with them against the Arabs and cease being a bulwark of Palestinian resistance to occupation. The covert ops which are aimed at weakening Iran (but not to the point where they can’t be a counterpoise to the Arabs) will likely be cancelled for good and all when wayward Tehran wanders back into the fold.

What never seems to enter the Israeli calculus is that peace with the Palestinians would be infinitely easier to achieve. Per the Saudi-proposed 2002 Beirut declaration, all of the Arab states (and Iran) would offer full normalization of relations with Israel upon the dissolution of the occupation. Israel would be instantly integrated into the neighborhood requiring none of the intricate machinations of the periphery doctrine. Whether Israel accepts a one or two-state solution thus would the Gordian knot that this conflict has morphed into be severed. The former course is looking more likely since, in a startling development, land-famished West Bank settlers are mulling over the merits of having that territory annexed and its Palestinian inhabitants granted Israeli citizenship. The Atlantic’s Robert Wright adverted to this attitude shift reminiscing over his trip to Israel last summer where he was told certain settlers were “‘more attached to the land than to the state’ and would rather surrender Israel’s officially Jewish identity than surrender their settlements.” This turnaround goes a long way in surmounting a further hurdle-transcending the ideology of Zionism-but that’s a subject for a subsequent article.

The liberated Palestinians in turn must make concessions of their own including acquiescing to only a token right of return. The number of repatriates is contingent upon there being one or two states and, as columnist Eric Margolis in his book “American Raj” fairly suggests, chosen by lot “from those Palestinian families who lost their homes in 1948 and 1967.” Though this beau geste might seem a triviality, the permission would be immensely treasured. Margolis explains that “In a part of the world where symbolic gestures and proper manners are of paramount importance… even small gestures of humanity often can exert surprisingly potent effects.” Having realized justice for their brethren, the majority of Palestinian refugees would gladly be absorbed into the nations where they reside and would at last be welcomed by those nations since peace nullifies the Arab League’s position of deliberately deferring the refugees citizenship until their right of return and compensation is addressed by the UN.

The refugees are also kept at arm’s length by Arab despots who view the deracines as radical agitators. Margolis notes that although “Arab and other Muslim rulers had personal sympathy for Palestinians” they “feared them as a…source of revolutionary zeal.” These apprehensions were actualized, for instance, during the 1970 ‘ Black September ‘ incident. But this destabilization dilemma vanishes upon peace with Israel and then it would be up to the Arab autocrats to assimilate the destitute refugees and reform accordingly. Incentivizing them to do so, the U.S. should announce that it is dissolving all political connections to these countries out of republican, non-interventionist principle. Lest those elites wish to lose everything, representative government will bloom amidst a renewed Arab Spring. Oh, and did I mention that rectifying the Palestinian situation would defuse the Iranian nuclear issue too?

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